Friday, May 26, 2006


We wanted to save all our pithy remarks and high praise for our review but we just couldn't help ourselves.

We don't know if WWD saw the same movie we did, but we think "The Devil Wears Prada" accomplishes a rare feat. And, for the record, the editors and "insiders' we spoke to after the screening we attended agree. The much anticipated film (which is a huge improvement on the infamous and best-selling book by Lauren Weisberger upon which it is based) captures the true insider's view of fashion magazines by getting the tiniest details right (i.e.) assistant elevator etiquette and the fine art of getting one's boss' desk ready for her arrival and by serving up enough fantasy fashion to satisfy aspiring Us Weekly-addicted fashionistas everywhere.

Where are the hip clothes asks WWD? Everywhere. There's more Chanel in this movie than you'd see in a month at La Goulue. Wasn't that a Galliano gown on Anne Hathaway in a pivotal scene? Just because everything in the film isn't a screaming advertisement for Gucci, Dior and the rest of fashion's dream team doesn't mean it wasn't smartly styled. On the contrary -- and we've got all the behind the scenes info on how it all came together. Look for our full review by entertainement editor Diane Clehane -- and exclusive details from cast and crew coming soon.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Having a 'F.I.T.'

Left: Thierry Mugler 1989; Center: YSL 1990; Right: Ann Demeulemeester 1996

A new exhibit, ‘The Tailor’s Art’, opened yesterday at the Fashion and Textile History Gallery at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology and runs through November 4th, and I attended the morning’s press preview. The main inspiration for ‘The Tailor’s Art’, according to Patricia Mears, was “menswear”. Ms. Mears is the research curator who organized the exhibit along with Fred Dennis, associate curator of Costume; Clare Sauro, assistant curator of Accessories; Lynn Weidner, technologist, Textiles, with the support of Chief Curator, Dr. Valerie Steele.

1948 Design by Elsa Schiaparelli

According to Ms. Mears, “We decided that we had never really explored menswear so we just wanted to look at what defines men’s clothing and it really is the suit, which has been the most modern (and dependable) wardrobe staple for centuries.” The way she sees it, “women’s fashion has always lagged behind men’s in terms of innovation and modernity, when you think about it.”

Alix Gres, 1950

“But we also realized that we didn’t want to just do a show about dark clothes. We wanted to show how menswear could be enlivened and how women’s clothes either followed their lead or were diametrically opposite. So we hoped to see recurring elements of silhouettes, as well as basic elements in the use of menswear fabrics” (like glen plaids, houndstooth checks, and tartans, the latter of which was indeed a recurring theme throughout). “And this was a wonderful way to include some of the textiles in our collection. We wanted to show a real historic overview, and that’s what this gallery is about. We wanted to take a simple idea, like the tailored suit, and turn it into a journey through fashion”.

Left: Roberto Cavalli woman's suit, 2002; Right: Man's 3 piece suit, French, 1785

To illustrate Ms. Mear’s point that “tailoring has not drastically changed over the last 250 years,” and “it remains relevant today because of its classic look and the fact that a tailored suit still conveys strength and modernity,” the ‘journey’ includes clothing and accessories which date from the mid 18th century up until the present, some bearing names like Balenciaga, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Adrian, Armani, Yves St. Laurent, Geoffrey Beene, Galliano, Versace, Westwood (who are known to be master tailors).

Left: Alexander Plokhov for Cloak; Right: Suit by Thom Browne; both from Fall 2006

It ends with two relative newcomers - both American menswear designers (Cloak’s Alexandre Plokhov and Thom Browne) who show their formal collections during New York Fashion Week, and who have quickly gained a following and a reputation as being master tailors themselves. Coincidentally, both, in addition to Ralph Lauren, have been nominated for Menswear Designer of the Year by the CFDA and the good news is that both will gladly make a custom ordered suit for a woman. For more information, contact, or

During the course of the press preview, the question arose whether or not the tailored suit, or the art of tailoring is in for a ‘comeback’ of sorts. Well, excuse me, but a beautifully cut suit (or jacket, or coat) has never gone out of style as far as I’m concerned. In fact, it’s hard not to look good in a beautifully tailored item. Fashion and style are all about appropriateness - having a sense of what is appropriate. There are times when a relaxed uniform comes in handy, but there are also times when calling on that beautifully fitted jacket is the order of the day.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

‘Sister Act’

Rodarte collection at Bergdorf Goodman New York

Nothing about Rodarte’s designing duo (Kate and Laura Mulleavy) is commonplace, predictable, or ordinary. The talented, hardworking, unassuming California natives (who live with their parents and grandmother in Pasadena) are close enough in age to be mistaken for twins, but are in fact two year apart (Kate is 27, Laura is 25). They are so in sync with one another that, by their own admission - they “are like one”. Their creative collaboration, which has grabbed the attention of the fashion world, perfectly illustrates this harmony.

Left: Laura Mulleavy Right: Kate Mulleavy

The Berkeley grads who studied Art History and English respectively, have only been in business for three seasons, and remain charmingly and refreshingly unspoiled, unaffected, and sweet - even in light of their amazing achievements. In fact, one could easily forgive them if they started acting like demanding, difficult divas, touting their own horns, or putting on artificial ‘airs’, considering that their 21- piece fall collection, which is more like couture than ready to wear and retails from between $1,000 and $16,000, has been nominated by the CFDA, for Swarovski’s Perry Ellis Award for Womenswear (which will be given out at the CFDA Awards on June 5th).

Not to mention that the line will be carried in 20 of the world’s most exclusive and visionary stores including Joyce in Hong Kong, Colette in Paris, and at Bergdorf Goodman in New York (on the 4th floor, just a stone’s throw away from Ralph Rucci - not bad!) This is where I caught up with them yesterday, on the first day of their two-day trunk show. And since I missed their fall/winter 2006 collection, shown during New York Fashion Week in a small intimate venue on the Upper East Side to a crowd that included Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley, I was glad to have the opportunity to see the clothes up close and personal.

For the Mulleavy girls who are inspired by artwork, textures, landscapes, marbleized sculptures, and swirling forms that are “modern and ancient at the same time”, it’s all about “the beauty of construction” and making “unique garments that are timeless”. When I asked which designers from the past, they would have loved to speak with, they immediately named them: Charles James and Coco Chanel. Which living designer? Karl Lagerfeld. But while they absorb EVERYTHING around them and are therefore influenced by it all (they claim to have “photographic memories”), they prefer not to ‘study’ fashion magazines or the work of other designers but rather, rely on their own instincts.

As for which star(s) they would love to dress? Even though this is not high on their priority list right now, and they are not exactly ‘into’ the red carpet scene, they both admitted to having an “obsession with Cate Blanchett” (who, it should be pointed out, would look amazing in their chic, elegant creations with their emphasis on cut, execution, and rendered in an easy on the eye and predominantly neutral color palette - it’s hard not to notice that shades of ivory and black are constant themes).

The designing duo proudly says that everything is lined (if it’s lined) in the HIGHEST grade satin which is “never seen in ready-to-wear” and their philosophy is that “you have to believe in what you’re doing”. This is why they like being far from 7th Avenue (in Pasadena) where they can “live in their own world” and hone their craft.

$16,000 highlight of the collection

While everything in this well edited collection stood out from my point of view, the most beautiful piece (and of course, the most expensive at $16,000) was a narrow floor length confection in pale shades of ivory, cream, and pale yellow done in a mind boggling combination of georgette, organza, pleated and crinkled silk chiffon, and satin. It looked gorgeous from every angle (front, back, and side) which is another one of their trademarks.

By the way, speaking about the upcoming CFDA Awards…what are the girls planning to wear for their ‘big night’? In true form (the collection is “not about them” but their being able to realize a dream and fantasize for others), they’re too busy worrying about ‘the others’ and have not figured that part out yet. One thing you can count on: like everything else about them, it will be first class, highly individual, personal, and not cookie cutter predictable.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Last Resort

Entrance to the Chanel Cruise show at Grand Central Station

What did Anna Wintour (wearing a white skirt suit, black top, black opaque tights), Cecilia Dean (in a t shirt emblazoned with Karl Lagerfeld’s self portrait underneath an ivory blazer), Maria Bello (opting for a sleeveless white shirt, black skirt, pink satin sash and black beret), Naomi Watts (seen in an elongated black cardigan, narrow black Bermudas, white cotton shirt), Mischa Barton (in a sheer white long sleeved top and white cotton skirt), and Julianne Moore (wearing a shrunken black boucle jacket, black narrow pants, black flat ballet slippers) have in common last Wednesday morning? (Click here to see what the editors were wearing) via

Other than all having been invited to the Chanel Cruise show held on a roped off and heavily guarded balcony at Grand Central Terminal, each of them in their own way (and each dressed completely differently), still managed to evoke the spirit of Chanel (and illustrate the different sides of the iconic house) in their choice of dress: channeling Coco or Karl…or a little of both. There were some, not so famous, who wore chic tan coats (thrown over black stovepipe satin pants, skinny jeans, soft chiffon dresses), others who decided upon their trusty tweed jackets - either worn with traditional underpinnings or cropped pants and elongated shorts, and still others who selected all white or all black.

One of the more fun and interesting aspects of attending a Chanel show - other than seeing the highly covetable, perfectly proportioned and brilliantly accessorized clothes, is observing the audience and seeing the way the fashion faithful dress to pay homage to this legendary label.

There is absolutely no other fashion house that can lay claim to so many immediately identifiable symbols and there is no other fashion show whereby simply observing the audience, you can instantly tell what collection you are seeing. In fact, one need not even wear Chanel in order to seemingly invoke the image (any combination of black and white, a quilted chain bag, cap toe pumps, pearls, a camellia, can easily do the trick).

But way beyond the black and white (black and beige, or black and pink for that matter), the little black dress, the camellia, the quilting, the gold or silver chains, the tweeds, the boxy cardigan jackets, the cap toe pump, and the soft chiffons, there is a mood, a modern spirit, an irreverence, a sporty playfulness, AND a naughty sense of humor that was at the very heart of Coco herself (as seen in her designs), which also describes Karl Lagerfeld, who is ably carrying the label into the 21st century. And he is often doing it with a wink and a nod.

Speaking about that sense of humor, many of Karl’s ideas admittedly begin in wicked fun, as a joke (such as using Grand Central Station as a venue for his cruise collection). As reported in WWD, he initially thought of the idea since it symbolized traveling, coming and going (trains, boats, planes), which is what cruise and resort have traditionally been all about. What more symbolic and busy place than the historic and grand building right smack dab in the middle of Manhattan? But a smart and able associate proved she could actually make it happen and it did. So, as usual, with many of Karl’s other ‘jokes’, he’s having the last laugh. And laughing all the way to the bank, I may add.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, May 18, 2006

‘Making His Mark’

Patti Y. Carpenter and honoree Mark Mendelson

Last evening, about 500 people (including some fashion industry ‘heavy weights’) turned out at to celebrate the 80th Anniversary of The High School of Fashion Industries. Instead of the traditional dinner and dance, there was a cocktail reception and student fashion show held at the school, which is located in the heart of Chelsea, 225 West 24th Street.

The High School of Fashion Industries, (a college preparatory school) is notable for several things: its student body is comprised of 1650 students (92% are Latino, African American and Asian) from the city’s five boroughs who ‘audition’ for admission. The school offers majors in Fashion Design, Art, and Graphic Illustration, Marketing and Visual Merchandising. Since its inception in 1926, it’s been regarded as a training ground for the industry’s future fashion designers, illustrators, merchandisers, and buyers. In addition, they proudly boast one of the highest graduation rates of any public high school in New York City.

Ruth Finley was the Anniversary Event Chairperson, Robert Di Mauro the Event Committee Chairperson, and Patti Y. Carpenter, the Event Co-Chairperson. The evening’s honoree was Mark Mendelson, a generous, tireless, and giving fashion insider who has been a mentor and fundraiser for the school since 1992, and who also happens to be Chief Merchandising Officer of the Jones Apparel Group. For his “long term commitment to the school” Mark received the first ever “Designing the Future” mentor award. It was presented to him by Ruth on stage prior to the fashion show.

Fern Mallis and Lisa Silhanek from 7thonSixth

If the aim of the evening (according to Patti Carpenter) was “to get the industry IN the school…since the school is the future of the industry” - then I’d have to say from the turnout, ‘Mission Accomplished’. The event was supported by the generosity of the CFDA, Fashion Group International, and 7thonSixth, and indeed there were Lisa Smilor, Stan Herman, Steven Kolb from the CFDA, Margaret Hayes from Fashion Group International; Fern Mallis and Lisa Silhanek from 7thonSixth, in addition to Fashion PR mavens James LaForce, Deborah Hughes, and Bonnie Bien.

The theme of the Anniversary and the runway show was “New York, New York City of Dreams”. The 50 minute show was completely student run and produced, and even used student models. It was divided into about 15 different sections includimg men’s and women’s sportswear, children swear, lingerie, swimwear, eveningwear, and bridal. To go along with the theme, there was an evening gown which replicated the Empire State building and a cocktail dress covered with hearts reminiscent of the “I love New York logo”. Who knows, perhaps we witnessed the ‘next’ Ralph, Donna, Steven, or Narciso.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Monday, May 15, 2006

A ‘Broadtail’ of two Cities

Russian broadtail worn with broadtail city shorts

Remember one year ago when New York furrier Dennis Basso presented his wonderfully eccentric and cross cultural collection of furs and ready to wear? Unabashedly colorful, embroidered, mirrored, studded, beaded, bejeweled, and embellished, it marked a true departure for the designer who initially put himself on the map with rather traditional if not somewhat predictable uptown/glam furs, fur trims, and fur accessories. With jeans and slouchy bags added to impart the desired mood, it was homage to boho chic, or as Jack Cohen, Managing Director of the Dennis Basso Salon, so perfectly summed it up, “Rich girl who lives in the mountains of Tibet” (To which I jokingly said, oh, like Lizzie Grubman?”)

Russian broadtail trimmed with ostrich feathers

Well, surprise, surprise. One year later, gone is anything remotely bohemian, or that mountain in Tibet for that matter. In fact, for fall 2006, Dennis’s loyal following will be thinking more about Paris because according to Jack Cohen, it’s all about “French glamour”. When I asked who Dennis’s muses or inspirations were, Jack was quick to say, “Leslie Caron” (in the 60’s) and Louise Brooks”. And he effused, “The workmanship you have to see. The workmanship is extraordinary! We have new techniques for EVERYTHING. It’s all about broadtail. We’ve split it, we’ve sueded it, we’ve embroidered it!”.

And he was certainly right about that. In fact, other than a few Natural minks, Black velvet chinchillas, and a smattering of Montana lynx bellies (a coat and a jacket), Russian broadtail (in one carnation or another) comprised almost all of the of the other 43 looks that were presented at The New York Public Library’s Astor Hall (the venue for the second year in a row).

Russian broadtail ‘trench’ outlined with black tulle

Broadtail, (a pelt favored by designers because it’s so perfect for tailoring, easy to work with, and practically seasonless), was indeed sueded, hand embroidered with Swarovski crystals, trimmed with coq or ostrich feathers, trimmed with ribbon, made into city shorts or skinny pants, fashioned into a hand embroidered wide obi belt to mark the waist of a coat or jacket, and even used to make an evening bag.

Among the standouts are the Russian broadtail jacket with handmade broadtail lace sleeves worn with Russian broadtail city shorts; a Russian broadtail coat with hand embroidered ostrich feather detail on the hem and sleeves; a Russian broadtail jacket with Swarovski hand embroidery and ribbon, lace, and tulle details; an ivory Russian broadtail ‘trench’ outlined with black tulle, lace, ribbon; and an ivory Russian sueded broadtail opera cape with hand embroidered ostrich feathers. In one instance, Dennis inventively used black Russian broadtail trimmed with ostrich feathers, to create a ‘simple’ knee length skirt. Pairing it, as he did, with a pretty ivory short sleeved blouse with black satin bow, he was able to transform that ‘uniform’ of a white blouse and black knee length skirt into something a bit more, well….interesting.

The 500 who attended the show (1,000 guests were invited), including Anna Wintour, Lorraine Bracco, Denise Rich, Liza Minnelli, and the Neil Sedakas), were treated to a well edited and fast paced lineup of beautifully tailored and expertly crafted pieces that were pared down to a very chic Parisian color palette of black, brown, and ivory, and infused with a French spirit. One could easily imagine Carine Roitfeld, the Editor-in-chief of French Vogue and the reigning Queen of Parisian Chic, wearing many of these pieces. Of course, the same can also be said of her American counterpart, Anna Wintour,

By the way, speaking of Anna Wintour, the Vogue Editor-in-chief was one of several guests who wore a touch of fur on this muggy late spring day; as if to prove that the luxurious pelt is indeed, seasonless and can be considered as a year round fabric. Anna’s narrow ivory knee length coat featured a lavish fox trimmed hem; another woman carried a Russian sable scarf in her hands; yet another was wearing Dennis’s pale lavender cashmere coat trimmed in lavender dyed Chinchilla. She told me that when she went out early in the morning, she found it to be rather chilly but agreed that later in the afternoon, it turned surprisingly warmer. However, that was apparently not enough to deter her from keeping it on.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Monday, May 08, 2006

‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’

Right: Marilyn Kirschner (photo: Bill Cunningham for his May 7th 'On The Street' column in The New York Times Sunday Styles section)

A while back, I wrote about some great summer finds priced under $30, and included in that group were several items by Isaac Mizrahi and Luella Bartley made for Target, one of my favorite places to search. Leading off that list was Isaac Mizrahi’s eye catching ‘Tulip Dress’- a sleeveless back zipped knee length sheath in cotton and spandex on a dark gray background emblazoned on the front with an oversized yet real life photo copy of a tulip stem and all.

I guess one can surmise that Isaac is having a love affair with tulips as it’s part of a whimsical and fun group he did for Target which incorporates the print (other offerings are a $14.99 Photoreal Tulips vinyl see thru shower curtain; a large Flower Tablecloth ($24.99); a Pop Flower bedding collection ($9.99-109.99); and a Pop Flower duvet set ($69.00-$89.99). I immediately ordered the dress - at that great price it was a no brainer - and a hard to beat combination of simple sleek style and bold graphics which further made it irresistible. Plus, it looked like something that would pack and travel well and would come in handy when the weather turns sultry. It also proved to be the perfect thing to wear to an event (like the recent Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon in the Central Park Conservancy), whose theme just happened to be flowers and lush gardens. And not that I need proof that the amount of money one spends is completely disproportionate to the resultant effect,my outfit, which was built around that approximately $30 dress, brought nods of approval and vocal accolades even surrounded by a sea of couture and designer labels which obviously cost well into the 4 figures. How satisfying is that?

As of this morning, the dress (which alas, is now only available in a few sizes online) has been reduced to $24.99 so this is the perfect time to order one. And while you’re at it, check out Isaac’s chic and versatile trench dress (with all the traditional trench details) in a substantial yet soft cotton with a bit of spandex. It had been out of stock for quite awhile but has wisely been reordered and is once again being offered in two of the best neutrals - soft gold (light beige) and ebony (black). It is perfect almost year round (depending on where one lives), and is completely versatile since it can be worn as a coat or a dress. And at this price ($23.99) why even hesitate?

-Marilyn Kirschner

Sunday, May 07, 2006


(Partial view of column)

Bill Cunningham of The New York Times devoted his 'ON THE STREET' column in today's Sunday Styles section to the Frederick Law Olmsted Awards luncheon. This event has grown more and more popular each year. And Bill did not forget our own Marilyn Kirschner. She is one of the featured ladies in the photo spread (top left).

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Frederick Law Olmsted Luncheon


Even though early weather reports were not promising, I certainly didn’t need to rely on the wisdom of the professional weathermen to inform me that the rain would stay to the east of the city yesterday. Because being the first Wednesday in May, meant that it was the 24th annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon presented by the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy honoring Karen LeFrak and Patti and Raymond Chambers for their generous contributions to the park. And it’s a known fact that it NEVER rains on the FLO Awards lunch, a wildly popular event and the largest fundraiser for the Central Park Conservancy attended by over 1,200 guests, many of them high profile. This time, America’s Sweetheart, Katie Couric was there and it’s obvious she is increasingly taking her public persona very seriously.

I had watched her on the Today Show earlier in the morning, and she was wearing a perfectly nice but rather nondescript pale tweed skirt suit. Though it was very typical of outfits Ms. Couric has worn on the air and certainly would have been appropriate for the lunch (especially paired with a hat of some sort), when she arrived for the event, it was obvious she had been given a quick and complete "do-over" courtesy of her stylist. She had changed into a far more stylish and eye catching black and white ensemble (white knee length coat, black dress, black pumps, and a dramatic white hat trimmed with black). And getting back to the weather, not only did it NOT rain, the sun actually shone a bit, all the more prefect to enjoy and appreciate the magnificent flowers in bloom and lush gardens that are the pièce de resistance of this magical New York place.

The FLO Awards Luncheon is also a fashion spectacle where hats are center stage (one almost feels ‘naked’ showing up without wearing one) - which attracts not only the New York swells, but those from around the country and around the world. While admittedly, it’s not an ‘edgy’ fashion forward scene, and the majority of guests are not plugged in fashion insiders who live and breathe fashion (but women and men from varied walks of life who have other passions), that doesn’t mean that there were no fashion pros in attendance. And quite frankly, it seems that each year, the number of high profile fashion insiders grows. And why not? It’s good publicity and it’s good to be seen.

There was Vanity Fair’s Amy Fine Collins, a study in lacquer red; a red suit, red shoes, and a hat (for the second year in a row) that not only looked inexplicably like something scarily extraterrestrial, but looked as if it could poke someone’s eyes out. On second thought, it’s very ‘explicable’: it’s all about standing out in the crowd. There was also a hatless Glenda Bailey who must have felt her graphic black and white coat made enough of a statement. Furrier/social fixture Dennis Basso and fashion designer/social fixture Tory Burch were also there (hey, what could be the downside of staying close to your customers?) And Chanel’s Arie Kopelman and wife Coco came as well.

Dr. Valerie Steele

And for her very first time at the event, Dr. Valerie Steele, Director and Chief Curator of the Museum at FIT, brought legendary hat designer Philippe Model, who made the trip from Paris especially for the occasion. Naturally, more than a few women were wearing his exuberant, colorful, flower strewn chapeaus. Another milliner was also in attendance, Eric Javits, who was probably able to tally many of his creations as well.

By the way, Dr. Steele looked chic and elegant in black and beige (a nice respite from all the predictably sweet almost cloying pastels favored by so many others): her oversized face framing sculptural straw hat was a vintage Charles Jourdan which she admitted was purchased at the most recent Triple Piers Show; her chic raw edged skirt suit was Isabel Toledo from spring of 2004; and her black Marc Jacobs round toe pumps were perfect and from several seasons back.

And while most of the hats were of your average straw brimmed/flower decorated ‘garden variety’ (sorry for the pun), there were many who went a bit crazy and had fun with their choices (hurray for those fun loving ladies) - There were lots of big, big, big flowers of course, many resembling flower pots perched on the head, and there were many hats that were all feathered or decorated with feathers. My award for the ‘Best in Show’ in that category, (particularly when you factor in this week’s opening of the Burberry sponsored AngloMania exhibit) goes to a woman who took her “trusty old Burberry rain hat” and rakishly added a few large pheasant feathers on the side, to give it some attitude. She wore it with a bias cut beige skirt suit which was the perfect ‘accessory’ for the hat. Quite frankly, had she attended the Costume Institute Gala, and worn that ensemble, she would have been more appropriately and interestingly attired than many of those who showed up in their uninspired, requisite and predictable gowns.

Carole McDermott hat decorated with miniature easels

But my ‘Best in Show’ for creativity and ingenuity, goes to Carole McDermott, a committee member (and an artist), who made her own hat which spoke volumes about her talent and her passion. Decorated with several miniature easels which she painted herself with scenes of Central Park and the Conservancy in full bloom, it also featured a miniature easel (found at a shop that sells dollhouses) and was crowned on top with a ‘likeness’ of the artist at work painting. Brilliant!

-Marilyn Kirschner

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

More Anglo Mania!

Randy Brooke, our director of photography forwarded to us some really great pictures he shot of the vignettes from the Anglo Mania exhibition that previewed yesterday. These are large and beautifully detailed images that we want to share with our readers.

Entrance to Exhibition
Get Off Your High Horse

Christopher Bailey for Burberry silk faille trench coat dress spring/summer 2006

Yin and yang, bi-polarity, and the stark contrast between high and low, tradition and innovation, glamour and functionality, is precisely what defines fashion right now and has for quite some time. It also describes the style of the English, who can be stodgy, conservative, and steeped in tradition, on one side of the coin, but rebellious, kinky, and well, a bit off their rockers (as in punks and rockers) on the other side. It is precisely this irreverence and dichotomy that is at the heart of “AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression”, the new Conde Nast and Burberry sponsored exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. It seeks to explore and define English lifestyle and Englishness vis a vis the relationship between fashion, class, lifestyle, home décor, and history. Perfect. Quite frankly, the only thing missing was the rain, as brilliant sunshine was the order of the day.

The Hunt Ball Vignette

Last night, the exhibit was celebrated in all out splendor at the gala which has long been referred to as “the Party of the Year”. The ‘best dressed’ in my opinion (those who had fun with it and kept in mind the theme of the exhibit instead of just wearing a boring bare gown - yawn!) included Sarah Jessica Parker and Alexander McQueen, who arrived together in coordinating over scaled tartans. Her dress, which was one shouldered, asymmetrically draped, short in front and long in back, looked young, fresh and modern; Linda Fargo in a voluminous taffeta Union Jack emblazoned ball skirt worn with a fitted black jacket and hair piled up; Diane Von Furstenberg who wore a narrow 1 shouldered column in the Union Jack motif (of her own design I would assume); Zac Posen, whose black and white embroidered jacket bore the word, London, in the back; and a highly theatrical John Galliano almost unrecognizable in a wig, heavily embroidered black frock coat, red and silver top, brocade pants.

Christopher Bailey for Burberry fox trimmed gabardine trench coat from Fall/Winter 2006

But yesterday morning, as crews were decking the halls, getting out the amazing flora and fauna, and laying the Red Carpet, there was a press preview (from 10 – 1) attended by many of fashion’s biggest names and unsurprisingly, many of them British nationals….such as Anna Wintour who was escorting Giorgio Armani (she seems to be going blonder and blonder- almost platinum, and regardless of the fact that it was a warm spring day, was wearing a fur trimmed ivory coat and matching dress), Hamish Bowles, Doyle’s Clair Watson, Manolo Blahnik, Suzy Menkes, Hilary Alexander, milliner Stephen Jones, John Rotten, Vivienne Westwood, and Christopher Bailey, head of design for Burberry.

Speaking of Burberry, on January 9th 2006, Burberry announced that Angela Ahrendts, 45, would be joining the company as Executive Director and would become Chief Executive on July 1st at which time Rose Marie Bravo would assume the newly created post of Vice Chairman. When I congratulated Ms. Bravo, who had been the subject of one of our early 'Masters of Fashion' Interviews, on her enormous success in revitalizing this at one time sleepy label, she smiled and downplayed it, saying, “I had a lot to work with”. Indeed. It was also the perfect time and timing is everything. So many other companies are in the throes of trying to do exactly what Ms. Bravo did and while they might get close….no cigars! Lightning only strikes once I’m afraid.

There was veritable fashion gridlock as members of the press and photographers winded their way through the six English Period rooms where the clothing is being exhibited, vignette style. While it makes for a theatrical, dramatic, charming, atmospheric, moody, and very appropriate setting, and is a wonderful way to present the fashion vis a vis English lifestyle and tradition, it felt dark and very claustrophic in some of the narrow halls connecting the rooms as members of the press and photographers with their large cameras and equipment navigated the small areas. I can only imagine the crush last evening, as throngs of couture clad guests in voluminous ball skirts and gowns tried as elegantly and chicly as possible, to get past one another in an effort to see and BE SEEN.

Getting back to the morning’s festivities….there was an 11 a.m. press conference held in a great light filled hall with bistro tables and chairs set up so that guests could comfortably enjoy coffee, tea, crumpets, croissants and marmalade (how English and how civilized!). Among those who got up to make brief (or not so brief) remarks was Christopher Bailey who observed that it’s “Burberry’s 150th anniversary this year, and it’s wonderful to be able to celebrate with such a wonderful exhibition n.”

The Dandy & the Punk Vignette

Andrew Bolton noted that, “Anglo Mania also marks the second time the departments have collaborated together, making use of the museum’s period rooms (the last time was Dangerous Liaisons, two years ago). “And in every vignette, there is an explicit relationship between the clothes and the room’s decorative elements”. In fact, it is precisely this consistent relationship between the fabric, the rooms, and the clothes that is at the “very heart of the exhibition”. He then singled out the impact of punk, born in 1976 on the fashion world, which was very much on display throughout the exhibit. And while he noted that all the designers may have his or her unique style, what unites them all is their ability to mix a wide range of styles, different periods, and cultures and he expressed his deep gratitude to all for their involvement. He then went on to say, “their unique creativity disproves Oscar Wilde’s dictum that “nobody ever appreciates the artist until they’re dead.” Talking about truisms, this from a man who also said, “fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months”.

In WWD Friday, April 28th “The Brits Are Coming to the Met”, Andrew was quoted as saying that “The clash between tradition and transgression, past and present, brings this edgy feel, which drives a lot of English designers.” It certainly describes the 72 items in the show, the bulk of which are made up of “Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, Hussein Chalayan, Stephen Jones, Phillip Treacy, and Christopher Bailey for Burberry because the Burberry trench is the iconic piece.” I was curious to know who he felt were the American counterparts to this group. Without hesitation he reeled them off: “Rick Owens, Three As Four, Anna Sui - who has the wonderful way of mixing high and low and is adept at the eclectic mixing of styles which is so British. And Marc Jacobs, who is inspired by historical references as well. They translate it into much more wearable clothing but it’s still very much there.”

-Marilyn Kirschner

Monday, May 01, 2006

Honest to Goodness

Ohio Knitting Mills menswear samples purchased by Ralph Lauren buyer.

The Manhattan Vintage Clothing & Antique Textile Show ( now in its 14th year, bills itself as “The collection that 100 years of design built” and “the greatest collection of vintage clothing and antique textiles from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries”. It also promises to be “the most fun you will ever have shopping”. Certainly that’s true if your idea of ‘fun’ is finding merchandise that is honest to goodness, the ‘real deal’.

The April show may not be as well attended as the other two during the year, according to its spirited organizer and founder, David Ornstein, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the ‘faithful’ did not come. Or that the crowds didn’t line up to pay the admission fee of $20 at the door in order to peruse the racks and booths of 80 top dealers from 16 states (including Cherry Vintage, What Comes Around Goes Around, Vicki Haberman’s Vintage Collections, Divine Finds, Green Parrot, Right to the Moon Alice, Joe Sundlie, Amarcord Vintage, Eevalinna, Resurrection Vintage, Patina, and Daybreak). And it seems everyone who was there, was there on a mission.

For fashion designer Behnaz Sarafour (who ALWAYS shows up and shows up early), and reps from Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, the mission - one would assume - would be to find items to serve as inspiration for future collections; for dealer Cameron Silver, the mission would be to find choice items (particularly those of couture quality from iconic design houses) to fill his legendary West Coast shop Decades; for another dealer, Pinky Wolman, the mission would be to find items to sell on her online shop, Mid Century Chic (which is currently hosted by Just a note, with the opening of AngloMania at the Met’s Costume Institute this week, and the attending Gala which takes place on Monday, May 1st, I was expecting, or hoping, to see some of the designers whose clothes will be on exhibit and who are here from London (like John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Christopher Bailey, Vivienne Westwood) but alas, did not see any of the above.

In the case of customers like die hard vintage collector Lisa Perry, her specific mission was to find that perfect chapeau to don at this coming Wednesday’s Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon (affectionately known as the FLO Awards Luncheon), held at the lush and breathtaking Central Park Conservancy. This has become a true fashion spectacle, where hats are the main attraction and which can be best described as New York’s answer to Ascot. For the record, it took her less than an hour to find a darling black and white abstract polka dot hat around which she will now have to work an outfit. Yes, absolutely, you get the hat first and then the clothes later.

The Ohio Knitting Mills Booth.

I always love attending these shows, walking the jam packed aisles hoping something will strike my fancy. And while there were many things that caught my attention, one booth in particular, Ohio Knitting Mills, Cleveland Ohio,, a collection of “Never worn, one-of-a-kind, true vintage, heartland made” sweaters, capes, vests, shirts, dresses and jackets produced from 1947 through 1974, did so for several reasons. 1 - a group of colorful, large, sculpture like spools of thread perfectly ‘advertised’ its specialty; 2 - I had never heard of them before (and as a ‘veteran’ of vintage shows, I feel as if I know all the players by now); 3 - knitwear, could not be hotter (as of course, you know by know if you’ve been following fashion); 4 - the artful pieces looked ‘alive’, real, true, and smacked of a Mid West, honest, lovingly handmade, hand sewn, homegrown integrity that was the polar opposite of something slick, urban, and false; 5 - the pieces on exhibit were at once wonderfully naïve AND hip, retro AND modern (in an almost ‘Missoni’ or ‘Pierrot’ kind of way); 6 - while most other booths were filled with a beautifully mismatched hodgepodge of stuff (that’s the point, after all), here, everything was related, told a cohesive story and there was a thread (sorry for pun) that held it all together.

Steven Tatar the exclusive representative of The Ohio Knitting Mills.

As soon as I began chatting with Steven Tatar, the Cleveland based company’s exclusive agent representative who is highly visual, creative (he’s a sculptor by training), impassioned, and focused, it became obvious to me that this will be a company worth watching. He handed me a museum quality ‘catalogue’, proceeded to tell me the history of the company (it was founded by Harry Stone in 1928 and was initially called The Stone Knitting Mill), and where he sees taking it in the future, which includes launching a children’s line and opening a temporary store somewhere in Brooklyn (perhaps Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Park Slope). Why Brooklyn? It’s “what I’m about” and it’s a “happening” place”. As he noted, “the energy is moving downtown and midtown is becoming corporate and mainstream”. And of course, the rentals are more affordable.

While he is a relative newcomer to the business (he has been actively involved with the company in this capacity since 2004 and this is only his second Manhattan Vintage Show), he has already cultivated loyal customers - including a stylish, beautiful, Academy Award winning star who shall remain nameless, and he is on a mission to build a brand based on the approximately 5,000 “one of a kind design artifacts” he has at his disposal. It’s a brand “whose heart and soul is about that heartland sensibility and authenticity”. “This is the real deal and we are trying to preserve this history and culture of honest hardworking people making beautiful things with integrity”. “Its all about brand building and story telling”. Stay tuned.

-Marilyn Kirschner